For Dexter Simms, December 5 was a good day.
The father and entrepreneur who was ‘born with nothing’ is fiercely proud of his achievements.
After a year of struggling to sustain his business, the 36-year-old owner of Croydon’s Mula Cake clothing shop and winner of Croydon’s Business and Entrepreneur of the Year awards gave three interviews to BBC News and BBC5 Live.
He spoke about the community hub he created to provide a safe space for Croydon’s children and the need for change to tackle knife crime on the streets of London.
But within 12 hours, his 20-year-old cousin would be fatally stabbed in Deptford.
In the dark and early hours of Friday morning, Crosslon Davis, better known as the drill rapper Bis Harlem, died outside a housing estate on Bronze Street as emergency services fought to save his life.
For the second time in as many weeks, three people across London lost their lives to a knife in the space of a day.
‘I stand for change’
The hurt and anger in Dexter’s voice is hard to hear.
The day after Crosslon’s death, he talks of the struggle of losing his cousin while running a business and supporting the community.
“I am living through pain every day, but I have got to put a brave face on. It’s deaths like this that make it come home,” he says.
“Everything I have, I put back into the community. People think the more successful you get the more famous you get. No, the more successful you get, the more change you can make.”
Since opening Mula Cake in 2013, Dexter has grown his business and launched a range of schemes to support young people locally.
He is part of a group of business owners in Croydon who are striving to offer their children an alternative to knife crime by providing mentoring and community activities.
It is a story that rarely reaches the mainstream media — the trauma of children brought up around violence and the older generation who endeavour to show them another way.
‘Lead by example’
Dexter closed his shop for a month in June before selling all he could to transform the space into a community hub for children.
The hub has provided a safe-haven for children since it opened in October and the aim is to have podcasting and t-shirt printing equipment for them to use.
For Dexter, it is vital for younger generations in Croydon to have role models to look up to and the means to unlock their potential.
“There are no black male role models. These kids who look up to Jay Z, when will they get a chance to meet him?” he says.
“So I thought, what can I do? I can be as successful as I can. I’m not too big for my boots.
“I will stay at the heart of the community and kids can look at me and say ‘he’s in the street, he’s part of us, I want to be like him’.
“You are supposed to lead by example.”
More than once, Dexter has reached out to the council for support but has often been met with silence or ‘broken promises’.
Last June, Dexter was denied permission by Croydon Council to hold his annual Mula Cake Family Fun Day in South Norwood Recreational Park due to a noise complaint.
“I was furious,” he said. “There was a big backlash from the community.”
For three years, families and friends had gathered in the park for activities and music and in 2018 nearly 2000 people took part in the event.
The event always ran on a Saturday with music finishing at 6pm and the park cleared by 7pm.
The Voice Kids finalist Lil Shan Shan and other young singers performed at fun days in previous years.
“It’s not about Mula Cake, it’s about young people who had nowhere to go that day,” he added.
“Families went to the park and we weren’t there.
“If we had done something serious like not given the keys back or there had been any trouble, then that would have been fair. But do not tell me it’s for a noise complaint.
“A lot of talented kids have started out there. Now you take their platform away.”
To make sure noise levels were managed, Dexter bought a monitor last year, and moved the sound systems away from neighbouring houses.
He asked the council for further explanation but eventually had to pay to hold the event at the Sir Phillips Game Centre where only 400 people came.
When asked for clarification about the ban, Croydon Council issued this statement:
“We assess each application for a public event carefully and we ask organisers to meet certain standards including limiting noise from events.
“If they fail to do this, we have to review whether they can take place in the future.
“The organiser can always submit a new event application and we will work with them to help it meet the required standards.”
For Dexter, the incident was one of many that betray a lack of support from the council and authorities when it is most needed.
‘There was no support system’
Dexter has no time to grieve.
The day after his cousin’s death, he worked at the hub before shutting up and heading to the Voice Black Business Fair at Fairfield Halls in Croydon.
“He was a nice kid,” he says of Crosslon.
“On the outside, he might have looked like a drill rapper with a balaclava, but he was very shy.
“He didn’t want to be laughed at if he asked the wrong question or said the wrong thing.
“He used violence and music to cover it up and feel like ‘this is who I am’.
Crosslon was part of the Harlem Spartans, a young group of drill rappers who rose to fame with tracks including ‘Call Me a Spartan’ and ‘Riders’.
Drill’s violent lyrics have often been accused of accelerating knife violence in the UK.
However, the music can be a way of expressing the realities of growing up around violence.
A report on the reasons behind knife crime by Barnado’s and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime stated: “In reality, much of what is behind the increase in knife carrying by young people relates to fear for their own safety.
“Lines are often blurred and young people frequently reported having been both a victim and a perpetrator of knife crime in their community.”
Crosslon was no stranger to this world.
“I knew him before he was Bis. Now he’s this person because of the lifestyle,” Dexter says.
“It was hard for him to live in the area. There was no support system.”
‘Others will lose hope’
Dexter now plans to throw himself into the community hub.
He was under the impression that the council would help to fund equipment but that wasn’t the case.
After spending the last of his business money to reopen the hub, he will have to find another way of paying for equipment.
“Now I have a hub with many children but no podcast equipment, no online radio and no printing equipment.”
“It is extremely hard, but if I don’t continue, a lot of others will lose hope. Then we will all lose.”
He hopes to start a ‘self-love and dance club’ to encourage self-care for children but applying for funding takes time.
“Every day that goes by another kid could lose their life. You put in an application and you have to wait four weeks.”
On the afternoon of December 9, Dexter’s family gathered on Bronze Street in cold December rain to lay flowers at the scene where Crosslon spent his last moments.
Now, bunches of flowers climb the black metal railings and cluster under the steps.
It is a stark reminder that those fighting hardest to prevent knife crime are often those it hurts the most.